- Focus on your other kids. Watch out! A few researchers find that parents do have favorites, and as much as we’d never admit it, we often favor our firstborn child. After all, that first birth is a life-changing, incredible event. And although that’s a huge boost for your elder kid’s self-esteem, it also can fuel sibling rivalry. Those jealousies can linger for a long time and cause a wedge between your eldest and his younger sibs. So beware of your interactions with your kids and ask yourself now and then, “Does each child feel I love him best?”
- Watch those responsibilities. We give our elder kids more responsibilities, and we just plain expect more of them at a younger age. But are you expecting too much? The eldest kid hates being told, “You’re in charge of the house until I get back” or “You’re the oldest, so I expect more of you.” Every now and then take a reality check to make sure you’re not imposing too many responsibilities on this kid or treating him as if he were older than his chronological age. (And do temper those “You’re the man around the house” comments at least until he (or she) comes of age.)
- Relax and take ten. Although the firstborn has the clear advantage of having our undivided attention (at least until the next sibling comes along), he also stands the chance of being the most stressed. We really are stricter with our eldest child and let their younger siblings get away with far more.26 We do inflate our expectations a bit for our first and expect more from him. Because this is our first-time parenting experience, we’re more overly anxious in our response to this kid.27 It’s one reason the firstborn child usually is more anxious—our expectations and stress rub off on him. Take a few deliberate breaths before responding to your first (he is also more clued in to your reactions and feeds off your stress). And maybe pare down those expectations just a wee, wee bit.
- Let your child go his own way. Birth dynamics play an interesting role in how our kids turn out. We are tenser and have higher expectations for our oldest, and he tends to be a less of a risk taker, sticking to the path we’ve forged for him. Research also finds that we encourage our eldest child to pursue more cognitive and analytical interests that could lead to more prestigious careers like law or medicine.28 (We also tend to be more open and relaxed with our younger child and far more receptive to letting him stray off that “straight and narrow” path to follow his more artistic and creative interests and become the poet or graphic artist.) The key is to identify from the get-go your oldest child’s unique passions and strengths so that he can become his own person and develop those interests that may lead him to the career of his dreams. And while you’re at it, encourage him to deviate a bit from the norm, take a risk, and think outside the box as his younger siblings do.
- Let your child tutor his younger sibling. The eldest child has another benefit: he has a younger sibling to help. “Can you teach your brother how to read?” “Will you show your sister how to turn on the computer?” Teaching someone a skill helps not only the tutored but also the tutor. In fact, in many cases, the oldest child gains the most (IQ-wise, anyway) from teaching his younger sibling. So, assuming he’s willing and has the time, encourage your eldest to mentor and teach. Just remember to use the same strategy for your other kids so they can benefit as well.
- Watch out for allergies. A review of over fifty studies found that the oldest kids are more likely to suffer from hay fever, eczema, and other allergies.29 One hypothesis: the eldest is overprotected and not exposed to those germs and bacteria, and so is far more susceptible to colds and likely to develop a weaker immune system (whereas the younger siblings battle the bugs at home before they start school and develop a stronger immune system to fight off those germs later on). Some doctors contend that all those colds firstborn kids tend to catch are really allergies in disguise. (The most pronounced symptom of an allergy is an itchy nose and no fever, ache, or chills.)